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Augusta Leigh

Augusta Byron, later Augusta Leigh (26 January 1783 – 12 October 1851), styled The Honourable from birth, was the only daughter of John "Mad Jack" Byron, the poet Lord Byron's father, by his first wife, Amelia Osborne, Baroness Conyers in her own right, the divorced wife of Francis, Marquis of Carmarthen, who was later to become 5th Duke of Leeds.

Augusta's mother died soon after she gave birth and it was her grandmother, Lady Holderness, who raised her for a few years. Her grandmother died, however, when Augusta was still a young girl and she in turn divided her time among relatives and friends.

Augusta later married her cousin, Colonel George Leigh, and had a number of children by him. Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos noted the wedding with disdain in his diary: 'Poor Augusta Leigh marries today! Poor thing! I pity her connecting herself with such a Family, and such a fool! However she has nobody to blame but herself.'[1]

Augusta's half-brother, George Gordon Byron, didn't meet his sister until he went to Harrow School and even then only very rarely. From 1804 onwards, however, she wrote to him regularly and became his confidante especially in his quarrels with his mother. Their correspondence ceased for two years after Byron had gone abroad, and was not resumed until she sent him a letter expressing her sympathy on the death of his mother, Catherine.

Not having been brought up together they were almost like strangers to each other. But they got on well together and appear to have fallen in love with each other. When Byron's marriage collapsed and he suddenly sailed away from England never to return, rumours of incest were rife. Incest in those days was a very serious and scandalous offence; and some say it was because of his fear of prosecution that he abandoned his country.[2]

There is some evidence to support the incest accusation. For instance, the Honourable Augusta Leigh's third daughter, born in the Spring of 1814, was christened Elizabeth Medora Leigh. A few days after the birth, Byron was at his sister's house Swynford Paddocks, Six Mile Bottom, Cambridgeshire, to see the child he appeared to believe was his. In a letter to Lady Melbourne, his confidante, he wrote: "Oh, but it is not an ape, and it is worth while" (a child of an incestuous relationship was thought likely to be deformed).

"Medora" is the name of one of the heroines in Byron's poem The Corsair, which was written at Newstead Abbey during the three weeks in January 1814 when the poet and a pregnant Augusta were snowbound there together. Augusta's husband, George, however never questioned the paternity of Medora, and she grew up among her brothers and sisters blissfully unaware that she might be the first of Byron's three daughters.

In fact, they were entertained by his in-laws at the family home in Leicestershire for several weeks after Byron had married Annabella Milbanke. At that time Augusta wrote to her sister-in-law about Medora saying: "The likeness to Byron... makes her very good-humoured". In another she wrote meaningfully, knowing it would be shown to Byron, "Here comes Medora".

Medora did become aware of her possible paternity years later and she and her child were assisted financially by Augusta Ada Byron, who was also a source of emotional support when Medora fell on hard times. Neither Medora or her mother met Byron's daughter by Claire Clairmont, Allegra Byron, who died at age five in 1822 in an Italian convent.

Augusta is also the subject of Byron's Epistle to Augusta (1816) and Stanzas to Augusta.

References

  1. ^ Henry Huntington Library. Stowe collection. ST 98. Entry for 15 May 1827.
  2. ^ "The Life of George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron". http://englishhistory.net/byron/life.html. Retrieved 2007-01-06.  







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